This past summer officially marked the fourth year of recovery following the 2007-09 recession, dubbed a “mancession” by some. Men lost more jobs during the recession, both in terms of absolute numbers and percent reduction in employment, and now, in the fourth year of recovery, women are gaining jobs lost back at a faster rate than men. A recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows that, as of June 2013, women have regained nearly all of the jobs that they lost in the recession, while men are still struggling to catch up. At first glance, this may sound like good news for women’s employment and gender equality in the workforce. But a closer look at the areas in which men and women have gained and lost jobs in the years following 2007 reveals that the United States still has a long way to go before we can declare that women are equal to, let alone outperforming, men in the job market.
The primary reason that men were hit harder during the recession is that men are more highly concentrated in industries such as manufacturing and construction, which suffered the greatest job losses during those years. These industries have experienced slower recoveries, as well, which accounts for the fact that men have yet to gain back about 30 percent of the jobs that they lost in the recession. Industries where women are disproportionately represented, such as education, healthcare, leisure, and hospitality, however, fared relatively well. The education and health sectors in particular have expanded in the intervening years, adding over 1.6 million jobs since June 2009, 1.1 million of which went to women. It is important to consider, however, that much of the job growth that has benefitted women since the recession has been focused primarily in low-wage, low-security positions in hotels, restaurants, retail, education, and home health. And overall, more men are still employed than women: 76.2 million men as opposed to 67 million women. Job segregation and the gender wage gap remain alive and well, with men and women working in different industries and even in different areas within industries, playing a big part in these unequal numbers.
Gender inequality in the workforce is nothing surprising or new: a large part of the reason that the gender wage gap persists in 2013, fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, is that women are concentrated in lower-wage industries and underrepresented in higher-paying leadership positions in almost every industry, even those that are predominantly female. Women also continue to earn less in the same occupations. Even in Boston, home to the best-educated women of any major U.S. city, women earn an average of 83 cents for every dollar that men earn. Nationally, the wage gap is even wider, at 77 cents to the dollar.
Economic recovery since the recession has not remedied these types of gendered economic inequalities. The IWRP’s report shows that while women have gained back over 90 percent of the jobs that they lost since the start of the recession, men have gained back proportionately more jobs or lost proportionately fewer jobs within each industry relative to women. Even in education and healthcare, the industries that account for much of women’s job recovery since the recession, women’s employment increased only 6.9 percent as opposed to a 10.9 percent increase for men, a 4.0 percent gender gap in job growth within these sectors. And the gender poverty gap in the United States has not decreased, but rather increased, during the recovery, with 16.3 percent of women and 13.6 percent of men living in poverty in 2012. While male poverty has decreased since 2010 despite the relatively slower recovery of male jobs, female poverty has stagnated during that time.
The fact that women have gained back in absolute numbers the jobs that they lost since the recession should not be construed as evidence for the so-called “end of men” or even definitive progress toward economic equality for men and women. Women are still disproportionately represented in positions that pay less and offer less job security and, on average, receive less compensation for similar education and skills. Economists predict that as the economy continues to recover in the next few years, men will regain the remaining 2.1 million jobs they have lost since 2007. The issue of job segregation by gender must be considered as we look at reports that indicate positive economic gains for women. Until equal pay and equal representation across industries and positions for women are a reality, gender inequality in the workplace will continue to be an issue that deserves not only our attention, but meaningful action.
Teresa Wisner contributed to this blog post.